As of this afternoon the rebuild is officially on in Cincinnati. The Reds traded Johnny Cueto to the Royals for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. Now that the first domino has fallen I expect the Reds to also look to move some combination of Aroldis Chapman, Marlon Byrd, Jay Bruce, and Mike Leake. So how should Reds’ fans react to this news, and how should they feel about the return from the Royals in this trade?
Before I look at the trade though, let me say this. I’m actually happy this is where Cueto ended up. He goes to: a team that is going to compete for a spot in the World Series this season, a more pitcher friendly ball park, and the best defense in baseball by UZR and DRS. Cueto walks into a great situation and fills a legitimate need in Kansas City.
While I’m happy for Johnny it is also a sad day to be a Reds fan. This was Cueto’s eighth season pitching for the Reds at the major league level. Over that time he (MLB ranks over that period of time are in parentheses) won 92 games (17th), earned a 3.21 ERA (22nd), had an ERA- of 79 (13th), and accumulated 21.4 WAR (22nd). Depending on who you talked to, Cueto was either an elite starter or just on the cusp of being elite.
It’s also a sad day as a Reds fan because it feels like the window is shutting on a version of this team that could have accomplished more. Cueto was a part of Reds teams that went to the playoffs in 2010, 2012, and 2013. The problem is that each of those years left a bitter taste in the mouths of Reds fans. In 2010 the Phillies swept the Reds out of the NLDS (Roy Halladay no-hitter included). In 2012 the Reds led the Giants 2-0 in the NLDS before the Giants came back to win the next three. 2013 wasn’t much better. The Reds lost the wild card game against the Pirates in a game I’m sure Cueto would like to forget.
With Cueto gone and Homer Bailey injured, the de facto number one starter on this team becomes Mike Leake. However, if Leake gets traded as is expected then the number one is… Anthony DeSclafani? Michael Lorenzen? It could be a rough rest of the season in Cincinnati as other players begin to leave. Some wonder whether or not the Reds will call up top prospect Robert Stephenson to fill one of the holes in the rotation in September. Stephenson is 22 and has spent this season in Pensacola (AA) and Louisville (AAA).
Obviously the Reds aren’t making the playoffs this season, but you get the sense that the front office isn’t entirely ready to give up on this team as currently instructed. Next year they’ll still be able to trot out a lineup that includes Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco (hopefully), and potentially Jay Bruce. That’s a team that should be able to provide a decent amount of offense. It is also a team that’s a little too old and expensive to trade away all of those pieces. For the next few years those players should be the cornerstone of the Reds offense. This isn’t going to be an Astros/Cubs burn it to the ground situation. If that’s the case, what’s the potential that the pieces the Reds acquired in this trade could help them in the next 2-3 years?
Before I talk about each of these players I need to make something clear. I think a lot of Reds fans might be underwhelmed with the return that the Reds got for Cueto, but everyone needs to keep a few things in mind:
- In essence the Royals are renting Cueto for two months if they don’t resign him. The Reds weren’t going to get as much as some other teams did for starters who are under control for a couple of years.
- Because Cueto was traded he isn’t eligible for a qualifying offer. Kansas City won’t be able to extend that offer or receive a draft pick if he signs elsewhere. There is some significant risk involved here for KC.
Admittedly I haven’t watched any of these prospects first hand. I’m simply going to provide some information from more authoritative sources. So what did the Reds get in return?
Brandon Finnegan (LHP)
Most people were introduced to Finnegan as the pitcher who played in the College World Series and the World Series in the same year. Last year he pitched 7 innings for the Royals against the Giants and did really well (1.29 ERA). This year he’s split time between Northwest Arkansas (AA) and Omaha (AAA). He’s started and pitched out of the bullpen at both levels.
So what type of pitcher is Finnegan? Here’s how Brooks Baseball describes his repertoire, ” In 2015, he has relied primarily on his Sinker (93mph) and Slider (82mph), also mixing in a Four-seam Fastball (95mph). He also rarely throws a Change (87mph) and Curve (82mph).” He’s probably the most big league ready prospect of the bunch and could start contributing to the Reds sooner rather than later.
John Lamb (LHP)
Lamb is also a left handed pitcher who has started 17 games in AAA for the Royals. In those 17 games he has a 2.67 ERA and a 3.57 FIP. This year he has tallied a 25.1 K% and he’s only walking 7.6% of hitters he faced. Clearly he is doing some things well at AAA. According to Shaun Newkirk, Lamb has already undergone Tommy John surgery, and he’s apparently rebounded nicely. His velocity has rebounded and he’s hit as high as 96 MPH with his fast ball. You can find out a lot more about Lamb in Newkirk’s article for Royals Review, “Is John Lamb about to be promoted?”
Cody Reed (LHP)
Reed was selected in the second round of the 2013 Amateur Draft by the Royals. Reed has split time between A+ and AA this season. So far in five starts at AA he’s racked up a 3.45 ERA although he’s been aided by a .258 BABIP. As expected he’s had a bit of an adjustment period coming up from high A. Reed has a body that many will love (6’5, 220), but he’s still developing. Here is how Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs described Reed earlier this year, “Reed…popped up late in the spring at a Mississippi JC, hitting 95 mph with a slider that was a 55 at times and a changeup that was average along with a projectable 6’5/220 frame, but command has been a big issue in pro ball.” Follow the link to McDaniel’s article to read more about the other prospects that came over in this trade.
So what did the Reds get out of this deal? Three left handed pitchers that could either end up as starters or depth in the bullpen. Finnegan probably has the highest upside potentially becoming a mid-rotation starter. This return probably isn’t going to satisfy a lot of Reds fans. It hurt to give up a guy as good as Cueto, but the Reds weren’t going to resign him for next season. Again, I’m not sure you can expect too much in return for a guy that might only pitch for his new team for a few months.
The Reds need pitching depth, especially if Leake and Chapman are traded the Reds. To that end they probably got a good return here with a couple of pieces that could contribute at the major league level. I know the sexy prospect that everyone was hoping for wasn’t a part of this deal, but in the end they got some decent pieces that could help them down the road. People need to remember this is still just the first domino to fall, and these three pitchers will simply be a part of the package that the Reds get in return for all of the moves that they could make over the next week.
Goodbye Johnny Beisbol.
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